Matthew McConaughey on ’Dallas Buyers Club’
What do you do when someone tells you that you have 30 days to live? Back in the mid ’80s, it was an all-too-common statement, and devastatingly true all too often.
Devastation is really the only word that even comes close to an accurate description of how deeply unsettling it was to exist during that particular moment in time. It was like a bomb had been dropped in the gay community and its radioactive effects kept building day after day, year after year, mounting a body count that was at times impossible to comprehend. It seemed that everybody was sick or dying: There one week, and seemingly gone the next. Leaving most to wonder if they would be next. The virus’ barrel was pointed directly at us. And the need to connect, which had drawn us together as a community in the free-wheeling 1970s, was the gun with which it would be, or already had been delivered.
"Dallas Buyers Club" lands itself in the middle of that paroxysm, exposing the rawness and vulnerability of those who were infected and the absolute lack of resources available for treatment, like no other film to date. They nailed it. The feeling that it was a war and that in order to survive it you were going to have to fight - down and dirty - for life. "Dallas Buyers Club" shows how the battle was done, and regardless of how unlike we in the LGBT community and the main character might be, he brought familiar echoes to the role.
The title character, Ron Woodroof, was a heterosexual Texas good-ol’ boy electrician and rodeo cowboy back in 1985. Totally reckless, he possesed a devil-may-care lifestyle that includes copious amounts of alcohol, drugs of every flavor and delivery method and lots of unprotected sex anywhere he could get it. This guy was the epitome of every LGBT’s nightmare; homophobic doesn’t even cover it. Let’s just say he is not the guy you want to come across alone in a dark alley. How does this guy connect to HIV/AIDS? His tenacity is familiar to many of us especially after his blindsiding diagnosis with the "gay disease."
In an interview with Matthew McConaughey, we spoke about how they decided to handle the main character, get into that chaffing exterior and beyond it in order to tell his story. "It’s not a docu-drama, it’s not necessarily even about HIV/AIDS. What’s original about it is that you have a heterosexual man and we haven’t seen that story before. When you first meet him, most people can’t stand him. This guy doesn’t start off as a flag-waving crusader for the cause in any way. He’s this selfish son-of-a-bitch who is doing what he can to survive. The challenge was keeping him true to that, trust that if we keep him this sort of bastard who wanted to make money - he wanted to be Scarface - we wanted to keep him doing that, and trust that his humanity will come out in the process."
Humanity seems like a long stretch for Ron’s character but in the end the disease and diagnosis forced his hand by making him vulnerable. Like it did for so many in the gay community, that same vulnerability compelled us to band together and to learn how to fight. McConaughey continued, "Here’s this two-bit cowboy electrician with a seventh grade education, who is forced to become an expert, even a scientist, on how to extend his life in a healthy way with HIV. He took it upon himself to find out things that were on the cusp because there was really nothing to go off of. Because of his personality, when he didn’t like what they were prescribing, he went elsewhere for a solution. Even leaving the country at one point for Mexico, then later traveling all over the world to figure out how to survive."
Director Jean-Marc Vallée, also a part of the interview said it this way: "To me it’s about the life-lesson behind it. I mean when you are told that you have 30 days to live, what do you do? Ron’s response was, ’Oh Yeah? There is nothing out there that can kill me in 30 days... you just watch me.’ This guy had some big balls. With no education he becomes his own teacher, expert and lab rat. He was a crazy cowboy... he wanted to live."
It’s that particular kind of fight that in the end humanizes Woodroof’s character, in his own words that "You are not going to tell me that I am going to die. F*ck you, I am going to live," sensibility. To be certain, it has its reflection in the LGBT community and the sense of purpose that eventually took hold when so few were interested in helping.
We were at that time still marginalized, still considered "not-quite-so-normal" and still on the outskirts of regular society. In that way and on other levels Ron was similar. He was an outsider, not a part of "acceptable" society. That isolation only grew and became more apparent after his diagnosis, when the bulk of his friends shunned him.